Monday, March 12, 2012

...Therefore, I'm Not?

This weekend Precocious Daughter told me I'm not a writer.

I don't remember exactly what led up to that judgment. We were hanging out and talking, having a good time. I expect these episodes to taper off as she inches closer to her teenage years and I become an idiot, which somehow always seem to happen at the same time in the mother-daughter relationship.  Anyway, she said something, and I responded, "Well, I guess you're not going to be a writer like your mom." To which she replied, "Pfff. You're not a writer."

I think it was the Pfff that hurt.

I maintained a neutral expression while the molecular structure of my ego destabilized and crumbled to primordial existential dust inside me, and I told her I was so too a writer.

"Well, yeah," she said, with a level of assurance I can only dimly remember from being 12 years old and knowing every damn thing in the world, "but not a professional writer."

Meaning, I suppose, that hardly anyone reads what I write, and absolutely no one pays me for it.

At least I look the part.
Now, I have been a professional writer, in the sense that it was my paid job to write things that were actually published and read by people. I had that gig for a number of years. Sometimes I got a byline, sometimes I was a ghostwriter, and sometimes it was purely anonymous. But I was indeed a "professional writer" of everything from magazine articles to press releases to training manuals.

In fact, people started paying me to be a writer and editor when I was a freshman in college. And pretty much every job I've ever had has involved writing, editing, proofreading, etc. to a significant degree. Of course, like most "professional" writers, I always dreamed of a being a "real" writer. I don't know what I actually meant by that distinction, which maybe is why it's never happened. At least not on a paying basis.

Shakespeare had his priorities straight.
Prose before hoes, y'all.
Just like a "real" writer, I've got my drawerfuls of unfinished drafts, of rejected proposals, of notebooks scribbled up with fragments and ideas that someday will gel into a masterwork. Or not. I've got my short stories that have entered (but not won) competitions. I've got poetry and song lyrics up the wazoo that have been accumulating like monuments to my evolving id since I was about nine years old.

Some of this stuff is absolute shit.

Saved from utter worthlessness by the fact that paper
can be burned for warmth, even with crappy writing on it.
Sure it is. And just like every "real" writer, I've wanted to stop writing every time I've created something mediocre, or unsuccessful, or incomplete, or just plain awful. One of the hardest lessons I ever learned was that writing something bad didn't make me a failure. Giving up did.

When I started this little blog two and a half years ago, I hadn't made any strides toward being a "real" writer in a long time. I was constantly writing and editing technical reports and other things at my job, but I had all but stopped writing anything that meant anything to me. Life got in the way - family and work and all the extracurriculars that fill up our days and months and years - but more than that, I got in my own way. I let myself give up on my dream of being a "real" writer because I couldn't figure out how to make it come true. And when I finally reached a point where I felt like a failure, it wasn't because I hadn't achieved wealth or fame, but because I had stopped trying.

So I started writing again. I became Chuck Baudelaire and began ranting about religion and politics and candy bars. And my Beloved Spouse and my Precocious Daughter and my favorite music and whatever I thought I could shape into something that someone might enjoy reading. Even if - especially if - I were the only one enjoying it.

Fortunately, I crack myself up.
Lovely, well-meaning people sometimes tell me I write well, and I'm almost obscenely grateful for their kind words. Some of them urge me to submit what I've written to this publication or that forum, or to leverage my blog into a paying gig. I'm deeply appreciative of their encouragement, as well.

Here's the thing. I have freaking issues.

Move over, my friend. I'm sure there's room for both of us.
Also, I know what it takes to be a "real" writer. And at least part of me believes I don't have what it takes. And at least part of that part is probably right. There are thousands, if not millions, of vastly talented writers whose work will never be published or widely known. Why? There are thousands if not millions of reasons. But they all boil down to this: The stars have to align. And they don't align just because you can string sentences together, or because you really really want them to. And no one - absolutely no one - knows exactly why one writer makes it and another doesn't, or how to force success to happen.

Ask any aspiring artist, musician, actor, or dancer if they know what I'm talking about.

Stylish and very, very practical.

Here's the point. I crumbled a little when PDaughter matter-of-factly stated that I'm not a writer. But I was able to tell her, with great dignity and maturity, "Nuh -UH." Because I think I am a writer, even if no one else does.

Because if I don't, no one else ever will.

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